Scottish architect known for his work in Africa

Born: April 2, 1943;

Died: May 4, 2018

ROBBIE Kerr, who has died aged 75, was an architect known his work in Africa. His work was fundamental to the development of some of the poorest areas of Malawi, Zimbabwe and South Africa and included building schools, colleges, clinics, and much needed housing.

Born Robert Cunningham Kerr in Edinburgh, he was brought up in Millport on the Island of Cumbrae, the son of Rab, an island ferryman, and Mary, a nurse and midwife. For primary education he attended the local junior secondary school, and continued to secondary education, boarding, as a bursary pupil, at Keil School in Dumbarton with a final year at Rothesay Academy. He graduated B Arch (Hons) from Strathclyde University in 1969 and so began a successful career in architecture.

His early training posts were in the Glasgow area with Cumbernauld Development Corporation and James Sim Construction followed by the Building Design Partnership in Glasgow.

In 1975, with a sound Scottish architectural background, this lad ‘o pairts left Glasgow with his wife, Gillian, son, Andrew and baby daughter, Ailsa for Malawi where the family increased with the birth of their second daughter, Lorna.

Thus began a 14-year African odyssey as he successively established himself in the architectural firmament of Malawi, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Many of his projects there were funded by the World Bank.

His professional life in Africa began with the firm Montgomery Oldfield and Denn, transferring to Hope and Clark, both in Blantyre, Malawi, moving after six years to Hope and Clark, later Hope, Clark and Kerr in Mutare, Zimbabwe. Finally, he worked with Fawkes and Dove (later Fawkes, Dove and Kerr) in King William’s Town, South Africa for the final six years.

His skills as an architect were multifaceted and broad ranging. The elegant yet eminently practical designs, his role as clients’ advocate steering each project through shoals of complex decision making and his tactful management of the the myriad contractors and trades all bore comparison with the conductor of an orchestra. The absence of discordance was no mere accident.

His achievements were seamlessly achieved despite having to cope with the differing building and planning regulations of each country in which he worked. A monument to the enduring nature of his work is Kerr AT Architects, the flourishing practice he left behind in Inverness.

Despite a busy professional and family life, Robbie Kerr found time to contribute, as a skilful front row forward, to the local rugby clubs in four countries and was chosen as vice-captain and pack leader to represent the Malawi Leopards playing against Zambia, Mauritius and Botswana. He retired after an extended playing career at the age of 40 transferring his expertise to refereeing. Poacher turned gamekeeper, he became an accomplished, rather stern, but fair, on-field disciplinarian.

His involvement with refereeing continued on his return to Scotland and until a few months prior to his death he could be found on the windswept touchlines of the Highlands acting as a highly respected referees’ assessor.

On returning home in 1989 the family settled in the Ross-shire coastal village of Fortrose and Mr Kerr worked for several years with Hector MacDonald Associates in Inverness before opening his own practice in the city.

As a high handicap golfer he had a tortured relationship with Scotland’s national sport. Daily walking on the paths and byways of the Black Isle was possible after retirement and a great morale booster in his terminal months.

Throughout his life, hillwalking was a regular if not frequent summertime pleasure. He eschewed any element of competition or compulsion and, in particular, did not get caught up in the current fashion for Munro bagging.

From his days in Africa he played an active role in Round Table and then Rotary culminating in a period as president of the Inverness Rotary Club.

He will be remembered as a devoted husband and father whose family provided the bedrock for a productive and successful career. He involved himself and his family in many of the social, recreational and charitable activities of the various communities in which they stayed. A man of forthright opinion and a master of blunt but humorous, apposite comment, his death is a great loss to his many friends as well as family and relatives.

He died after a long illness resulting from mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure. He is survived by his wife, Gillian, his son, two daughters and four grandchildren of whom he was a much loved and revered husband, father and grandfather.